Purity and passion

Crimson, scarlet, ruby, or rose – red by any name universally stands for passion, danger, and love. As an instinctively identifiable symbol of the life force, red plays a seminal role in Indian cultural traditions.

In Kundalini Yoga, red represents the Muladhara or Root Chakra that governs desire and emotion. Vermilion, a particularly stunning shade of red is ubiquitous in Hindu ritual, from the tilak mark placed on a worshipper’s forehead to sacred idols smeared with bright vermilion paste.

Red in India is also associated with protection and spiritual power. Maa Durga, the goddess tasked to fight the most evil of demons is an awe inspiring figure clad in brilliant red, her wide, kohl-lined eyes emphasized by a dramatic red bindi and ruby lips. Older idols of village goddesses, traditionally believed to protect their devotees from enemies and disease, were no more than rounded stones smeared liberally with crimson paste.

For all these dramatic associations, red paradoxically is a symbol of purity and commitment and hence, the color of bridal wear. Exquisite orange-red designs from henna decorate a bride’s arms, hands, and feet. In some parts of the country, a newly married bride dips her feet into a mixture of alta (a natural dye) and milk before stepping into her new home, her blood red footprints symbolically ushering in prosperity and happiness for the family. Blood red sindoor worn by a married woman in the parting of her hair signifies the sanctity of marriage and fidelity.

Kanjivaram saris, famed for their earthy, lustrous colors, feature many unique tones of red. Arakku, a dark wine shade, makes for a stunning combination with gold or as a contrasting border color against warm, bright shades like mango. The traditional bridal silk is deep cherry red, teamed with gold. A ‘hot’ favorite – though perhaps only suited for those who love the attention it attracts – is molaga-pazham, the eye-watering red of chili peppers!

The year 1959 saw the rise of a prominent Chennai landmark, the 15-storied LIC (Life Insurance Corporation) building. Was it a Kanjivaram-crazy buyer or a canny silk dealer who was inspired to name a sari border after the building’s serried ranks of windows?  History doesn’t divulge, but who cares? The ‘LIC border’ remains an all time trousseau favorite, its stacked, golden squares of zari contrasted with red silk still flying off the shelves!

Click here to check Saris of various shades of red here at Sarangi.


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